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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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The Safe Schools Hub: a new resource to promote student safety and wellbeing in schools

Report

The National Safe Schools Framework aims to ensure that all Australian schools are safe, supportive and respectful communities that promote student wellbeing. It is now supported by a new service, the Safe Schools Hub: a one-stop shop for information and resources to assist teachers, school leaders, students, parents and specialist professionals.

One of the central elements in establishing safety and wellbeing in schools is addressing the problem of bullying. This article reviews some key issues surrounding bullying in schools, summarised from selected sections of the Framework's Resource Manual (available from homepage). It then describes how the Safe Schools Hub can help educators deal with these issues.


Types of bullying

Face-to-face direct bullying involves physical actions such as punching or kicking, or overt verbal actions such as name-calling and insulting. Covert or indirect bullying, on the other hand, is conducted out of sight. It may involve repeatedly frightening someone with a contemptuous stare (Rivers, 2001). More often, however, it involves 'relational bullying': the intentional manipulation and damage of peer relationships leading to social exclusion (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). The tactics used may include, for example, making false allegations (eg that the targeted student has violated significant friendship 'rules'), spreading rumours about them or their family or conducting a malicious social exclusion campaign through the use of internet or mobile phone technologies (Cross et al, 2009; Bjorkqvist et al, 1992; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995).

Teachers need to be aware that students who start to perform poorly or not turn up for school may be on the receiving end of this insidious type of bullying, which can be very difficult for students to explain and substantiate.

Cyberbullying is a form of covert bullying. In Australia, cyberbullying appears to most commonly involve the malicious, targeted and repeated use of instant messaging and text messages (Cross et al, 2009), with a trend towards the use of social networking sites (eg MSN, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo) by older students. Cyberbullying can be anonymous, it can reach a wide audience and the sent or uploaded material can be difficult to remove. Cross et al (2009) have argued that cyberbullying may be increasing as changes to schools' policies and procedures make it more difficult for students to bully face-to-face.


How prevalent is bullying in schools?

Australian data suggests that between 19 per cent and 27 per cent of students are bullied at school and 10 per cent report being cyberbullied. Bullying appears to peak during the year in which students move from primary school to high school and then decreases to relatively low levels at the end of the high-school years. The two apparent exceptions are cyberbullying, which continues to increase after the transition year in Australian schools (Cross et al, 2009), and relational bullying among girls which also increases as they get older (Wolke et al, 2009).

The development of an adolescent student's sexual identity can become the focus of bullying when they enter secondary school (Craig & Pepler, 2003), as mixed-sex socialising becomes increasingly important (McMaster et al, 2002). Romantic relationships can also become a context for the use of power and aggression. Connolly et al (2000) found both boys and girls aged 12 to 15 who reported bullying others were also more sexually advanced, more likely to be involved in romantic relationships at an earlier age, and also more likely to report that they either used or received verbal and physical aggression within romantic relationships.

It is becoming apparent, however, that many students who persistently bully others don't just 'grow out of it'. Rather, it continues into adult life (Dupper & Myer-Adams, 2002; Pepler et al, 2008; Schaeffer et al, 2003; Tremblay et al, 2006). Schools that do not address the problem of bullying can become breeding grounds for dysfunctional behaviour in later life.


School factors and social dynamics that help to explain bullying

The dynamic of social positioning

One of the most common dynamics in bullying situations is that of 'social positioning', to enhance or maintain the bully's own social status and attain social dominance and/or power. The targeted student becomes trapped in a destructive relationship, particularly if their friends abandon them in order to enhance their own sense of 'belonging' and to protect their own social wellbeing. Many young people who are bullied then attempt to 'maintain face' by putting on a 'mask' of indifference, assuring any adult who asks about their wellbeing that 'everything is okay'.

The dynamic of rejecting difference and imposing conformity

Students' most common explanation for bullying is that the victim is different in some way (eg appearance, speech, preferences, friends, family, or sexual orientation). Students who are apprehensive about their own social inclusion might take part in bullying the 'stigmatised' student to disassociate themselves from the victim.

The dynamic of 'blaming the victim'

Students who bully will often blame the student they are bullying for their own situation: they justify the bullying as a harmless 'game', and represent the 'deviance' of the student as the real problem. The bullied student may come to accept this incorrect view and blame him/herself as well. Students who blame themselves are less likely to seek support and more likely to 'suffer in silence'.

The dynamic of misleading teachers by claiming 'provocation'

Some students can become quite adept at misleading teachers about their role in bullying (or in aggressive assaults) by claiming 'provocation' as a result of things that the bullied/attacked student has (supposedly) said about them or their family, or as a result of actions the bullied/attacked student has (supposedly) taken. In some cases 'provocation' simply represents annoyance with, or intolerance of, the bullied student's 'different' social behaviour or physical characteristics (Phillips, 2003; Teräsahjo & Salmivalli, 2003; Akiba, 2004).

The dynamic of bullying that occurs within a 'friendship'

Bullying can occur within the context of a friendship or friendship group, eg when the victim is made fun of or excluded, and perhaps explicitly banished, for periods of time. It occurs especially among girls (Mishima, 2003; Crick & Celson, 2002). This dynamic can result not only in emotional pain, but also confusion for the student being bullied. A 'friend' finds it easier than a non-friend to deflect the anger of the targeted student, and create further confusion by saying 'can't you take a joke'. It is more difficult for students who are being bullied by friends to either recognise what is happening or ask for support in dealing with it (Mishna et al, 2008). The victim's family and teachers at the school may take some time to identify this behaviour as bullying.

The roles of bystanders

Bystanders who witness or know about bullying are now recognised as a critical part of the group dynamics of this sort of behaviour. Students respect any student who stands up for someone being bullied, but very few students do so, even though bystander intervention and/or support can make a big difference. Most bystanders are passive or behave in ways that support or reinforce the bullying.

Bullied students not only have to survive the humiliation and distress of the attacks, but also live in constant fear of recurrence. A pattern of victimisation in a school, once developed, can quickly become entrenched because students continue to be in contact with each other over time and it is not easy for the targeted student to leave the situation (McGrath & Noble, 2006).


Instrumental bullying and reactive bullying

Some bullies see their aggressive mistreatment of other students as 'instrumental' in achieving social dominance. These students are more likely to use covert forms of bullying (Kaukiainen et al, 1999). Although these students are low on emotional empathy – that is, 'feeling' the distress of another – some of them have high levels of cognitive empathy – 'reading' how others are feeling and predicting and explaining their reactions (Jolliffe and Farrington, 2006). This ability to 'read' others, plus a reasonable level of social competence, enables them to manipulate other students to take part in the bullying they initiate (Craig & Pepler, 2003; Kaukiainen et al, 1999; Sutton et al, 1999).

Although they are often socially dominant and have some status in the peer group, students who bully proactively and instrumentally are not typically liked by other students (Bukowski, 2003; Veenstra, 2005) and not sought as friends, although they would like to be (Veenstra et al, 2010).

Students who bully reactively are more likely to be quick to anger and lash out impulsively, usually with physical aggression. They have low levels of social competence and poor emotional control (Roland & Idsoe, 2001; Vaillancourt et al, 2003). They have difficulties in particular with controlling frequent angry feelings (Bosworth et al, 1999; Orobio de Castro et al, 2003; Swearer & Cary, 2007). These students tend to be poorly accepted and sometimes move between bullying others and being bullied.


Victims of bullying

Victims may be different from others in physical characteristics or dress, or have a disability. On the other hand, some students may be targeted because they pose a threat (eg by being likable or successful in some way) to the social status of a student who has a pattern of bullying others.

Students who are frequently bullied are more likely to feel disconnected from school, lack quality friendships and relational skills, or have low self-esteem. Non-assertive social behaviour also makes it more likely that a student will be bullied. This may become self-reinforcing, since exposure to relational bullying through social exclusion also leads to a student becoming even less assertive over time.


Factors that help to reduce bullying and promote student wellbeing

Schools can help to safeguard students against bullying by establishing a culture that is positive, caring, respectful and supportive. Bullying is less likely when the school actively cares about and promotes student wellbeing, when students see that the school has clear support and disciplinary structures in place, and when teachers use effective behaviour management techniques and promote cooperation.

The importance of facilitating friendships

Research suggests that having high-quality friendships, or at least one best friend, can help prevent children from bullying and being bullied (Bollmer et al, 2005; Boulton et al,1999; Fox, 2006; Goldbaum et al, 2006; Hodges et al, 1999). High-quality friendships are characterised by loyalty and support and a willingness to stand up for one's friend. Children with poor social skills who have supportive friendships are less likely to be bullied than similar children without such relationships. A positive peer relationship can also provide some students with an opportunity to learn the skills needed for healthy peer relationships (Bollmer et al, 2005).


The Safe Schools Hub

The Safe Schools Hub is a new website designed to help school communities address these issues. It draws together information for parents, teachers and schools on the National Safe Schools Framework, anti-bullying initiatives and a wide range of resources.

The Hub contains a 'Toolkit' which explains key elements of the National Safe Schools Framework to help school communities understand what they need to do to ensure they have a safe and supportive learning environment. The key features of the Safe Schools Toolkit include:

  • video case studies showcasing schools that have implemented effective safe-school practices
  • the School Audit Tool, where schools can assess how they are doing on each of the nine elements of the Framework and use this to inform their safe-school plans
  • resources that unpack in detail each of the nine elements of the National Safe Schools Framework
  • activities that further suggest how to introduce safe-school practices in a school setting
  • a resources gallery.

Throughout 2013 additional resources will be available on the website. These include information for parents, ideas for students, and professional learning modules for teachers, school leaders, specialist professionals in schools and preservice teachers.

The Safe Schools Hub project is funded by the Australian Government, working in partnership with state and territory governments, the non-government school sectors and Education Services Australia.

Register at www.safeschoolshub.edu.au to receive regular updates on news and resources for safe schools.


References

Akiba, M. (2004), 'Nature and correlates of Ijime: bullying in Japanese middle school', International Journal of Educational Research, vol 41, pp 216–36.

Bjorkqvist, K., Osterman, K. and Kaukiainen, A. (1992), 'The development of direct and indirect aggressive strategies in males and females' in K. Bjorkqvist and S. Niemela (eds), Of Mice and Women: Aspects of Female Aggression. San Diego: Academic Press, pp 113–122.

Bollmer, J.M., Milich, R., Harris, M.J. and Maras, M. (2005), 'A friend in need: Friendship quality, internalizing/externalizing behavior, and peer victimization', Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol 20, pp 701–712.

Bosworth, K., Espelage, D.L. and Simon, T.R. (1999), 'Factors associated with bullying behavior in middle school students', Journal of Early Adolescence, vol 19, no 3, pp 341–362.

Boulton, M.J., Trueman, M., Chau, C., Whitehand, C. and Amatya, K. (1999), 'Concurrent and longitudinal links between friendship and peer victimization: Implications for befriending interventions', Journal of Adolescence, vol 22, no 4, pp 461–466.

Bukowski, W.M. (2003), 'What does it mean to say that aggressive children are competent or incompetent?', Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, vol 49, pp 390–400.

Connolly, J., Pepler, D.J., Craig, W.M. and Taradash, A. (2000), 'Dating experiences of bullies in early adolescence', Child Maltreatment, vol 5, pp 299–310.

Craig, W. and Pepler, D.J. (2003), Identifying and targeting risk for involvement in bullying and victimisation, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 577–582.

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Cross, D., Shaw, T., Hearn, L., Epstein, M., Monks, H., Lester, L. and Thomas, L. (2009), Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (ACBPS), Child Health Promotion Research Centre, Edith Cowan University, Perth. Retrieved June 4th, 2009 from

Dupper, D.R. and Myer-Adams, N. (2002), 'Lower-level violence: A neglected aspect of school culture', Urban Education, vol 37, no 3, pp 350–364.

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Goldbaum, S., Craig, W.M., Pepler, D. and Connolly, J. (2006), 'Developmental trajectories of victimization: Identifying risk and protective factors' in J. E. Zins, M. J. Elias and C. A. Maher (eds), Bullying, Victimization, and Peer Harassment, New York: Haworth Press, pp 143–160.

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McGrath, H.L. and Noble, T.N. (2006), Bullying Solutions: Evidence-based approaches to bullying in Australian schools, Sydney: Pearson Education Australia.

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KLA

Subject Headings

Safety
Bullying
School and community
School culture